The Electoral Commission has received several representations about the timing of counts at the forthcoming UK parliamentary general election. The issue has also been discussed at recent meetings between the commission and individual Members of Parliament and with representatives of the BBC. The commission has written to all returning officers asking for information about when they intend to begin counting in the general election. As of 13 November 2009, it had received responses from 429 out of 650 constituencies, of which 225 will begin their count on polling day and 48 the day after. Some 156 were undecided. Details of responses received by constituency are available on the commission’s website.
I am grateful for that response and glad that the Electoral Commission is considering the matter carefully. The truth is that Parliament and politics are less popular and of less interest than they used to be. If we are to forgo the count on the evening of polling day, people will not even have a Government the next day. We must have a count as soon as possible afterwards, and I hope that my hon. Friend will take that as a representation.
I do receive that as a representation. My hon. Friend knows that returning officers, whose role is independent in statute, make the final decision about when a count is held. The Electoral Commission’s foremost concern is that the count be accurate and the voters have confidence in the result, but my hon. Friend’s representations are certainly well received.
It is extremely rare that I find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), but he refers to part of the tradition of our system. Although it is impractical in a handful of constituencies, will the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) press the Electoral Commission to encourage returning officers to hold counts on the night of the election?
The Electoral Commission does not look to influence the decision of returning officers, and the hon. Gentleman knows that the requirement to check signatures and dates of birth on postal voting statements accompanying postal ballot papers is the issue that has arisen about the forthcoming general election. Naturally, the commission will look at the outcome of the next general election and the processes, and make appropriate representations after that.